NABShow Roundup- Quickthoughts on why the Canon XC 10 is NOT a game changer

Canon released an interesting concept camera at the NAB trade show recently.- the XC-10.

XC10_1Image courtesy Canon on Twitter.

It is positioned as a camera that is equal part a stills and a video camera. It promises to deliver both types of media, with an appropriate user experience for both styles of shooting.

The trend of the last five years or so have ensure that still photography and videography work in tandem in the consumer space. The web is our biggest source of consumption of information, and still images, video and audio are essential to the way we treat information and News and how we consume it. Most publications are now taking this multimedia route.

Journalists in the field (including my self) now have to produce multimedia content. Crew sizes are much smaller, turn around times are much shorter. You have to be able to shoot, edit , package and deliver. This is the need of the hour. There are multiple distribution channels that need to be satisfied, especially on the web with Social Media now playing such a huge role in how publications deliver their content.

In a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine who works with international wire agencies, he listed 3 skills that were essential to get hired as a photographer in today’s scenario- a) Still Photography, b) Video and basic editing skill, and c) Basic web developing/ Coding; I agree with him entirely. One has to become a content producer to keep up and sustain in today’s world. Moreover, it is now very necessary to add value to the product that you have been asked to create by your publisher, for instance, you could deliver a podcast to your publisher from the same video interview.

I always like to play Devil’s Advocate with myself, whenever debating on new features of a product or learning new skills- ” If your camera can do it, why cant you?”

The 5D mark II came into being,  due to the needs of multimedia journalists. Wire news photographers or embedded photographers, especially in situations covering subjects such as conflict were required to do all these things all on their own. The need of the hour was to have a camera that delivers both. Previously, photographers were producing multimedia content but not so efficiently or conveniently as they were forced to use multiple pieces of equipment such as a still camera, a separate smaller camcorder style video camera, a voice recorder and a satellite  phone. Now just in a couple of years, all of that has shrunk down into one or two pieces of equipment. The HDSLR now records, decent audio (although the 1D series of old, did have a inbuilt small mic for recording comments etc. to images), it shoots video, it delivers high resolution images and in some cases it also has inbuilt wifi or a WLAN connection to quickly deliver images.

For a multimedia producer, it is a empowering and balanced tool that fullfills most needs, barring a few tweaks here and there. in my opinion it is better that these areas are there as every individual can then tweak the camera and add more devices such as sound recorders etc. based on personal preference.

The problem lies in the implementation of the HDSLR to documentary work or to independent film making. This is where the industry is in a crunch. The implementation of HDSLR to long version documentary video or to indie cine has put pressure on camera manufacturers to gear still camera more towards video and less on stills. What the industry has to realise is that the HDSLR can never satisfy the needs of broadcast documentary or indie cine. The HDSLR is not designed to deliver, broadcast-able HD 422 50mbps video. To do that you need to slap on an external recorder, and a power source on top of the light and sound gear already mounted on the camera. You end up with a setup that cannot be handled by a single operator. Now, once you have already made that jump to having a crew around, then handling any camera becomes easy irrespective of big or small. My argument always is that, for the one man band that is the multimedia journalist, the HDSLR is a satisfactory and balanced machine. Now, in the past year or so, there are cameras such as the Sony A7s that deliver broadcast ready footage and other pro video features such as the ability to shot in LOG on board, but they do so at the cost of resolution; the A7s delivers only 12 mega pixel still images.

The added advantage however with cameras such as the A7s or the GH4 is the size. This lends them to other styles of drone photography. This I agree is a huge advantage.

Now enters the XC 10.

It is in Canon’s billing this as an equal parts still and video camera meant for multimedia use, is where I find its biggest short fall.

Form factor wise, it resembles a mix of the cinema EOS line and the the DSLR line. There are some features such as the rotating hand grip from the XF line of camcorders. This is a very nice feature. This, coupled with the tilting screen really aids shooting at lower angels, and even in situations where you have to frame a shot while the camera is above eye level.

The screen on the back is a 3 inch 1,030,000-dot LCD and features a full 100% coverage. This is great as it helps monitor the edges of the shot well. More over it is a capacitive touchscreen which allows easy access of settings that don’t have dedicated buttons.

The ergonomics of the XC 10 however are not that comfortable for stills use. Canon provides a “clip on” finder for use outdoors or shooting stills. The lack of an inbuilt electronic finder is a deterrent  as a clip on finder does become a bit cumbersome for practical purposes.

The XC 10 is about approx. 5inches in all dimensions of length, breadth and height. This small size is helped by the fact that it uses a 1 inch 12 mega pixel sensor. The 1 inch size sensor has become popular recently due to its larger size and low noise capability at higher ISO as compared to broadcast camcorders which are typically 1/3rd inch or 1/2inch sensor cameras.

With a 4224 x 3164 total resolution, it is able to capture video at up to 3840 x 2160 (4k UHD resolution). Photos are captured in a 4:3 aspect ratio at 12-megapixels (4000 x 3000). The 4:3 aspect ratio is not a very friendly or prevalent ratio, secondly 12 megapixels does not yield a big enough file size. More over, the camera only records stills in JPEG format. RAW or even TIFF recording for still images is not implemented. This is a big down side of this camera.

Video is recorded with H.264 compression and with the widely supported MXF wrapper. Bitrates of 35 and 50 Mbps are available for 1080i/p recording, and there are 205 and 305 Mbps modes (depending on frame rate) for UltraHD 4K. This is upto industry standard and would really help if this camera is used as a B-camera  to inter cut footage from a Cinema EOS Camera being used as a master camera.

The XC 10 does also feature a few pro recording formats from the cinema EOS line such as the Canon LOG gamma and the Wide DR gamma. This is a great step as it really helps budget and mid range video productions which want to use this as a second or a third camera on set.

 Recording media wise, the XC 10 has 2 card slots. One is a SD (SDXC,SDHC compatible) slot. Still images and Video (up to 1080p), is stored in this slot. Moreover the SD card slot can also be used to store user customizations and settings. To accommodate the up to 305 Mbps that 4K video capture requires there is a separate CFast card slot. CFast as media storage is getting a push however, it is not a very readily available card, more over it is a very expensive card. A 64GB card is approx INR 35,000/- (500 USD) on the market. This I’m sure is more of a move to make the camera future proof as the availability and price of these cards is a huge deterrent. An independent user buying into or upgrading to a cinema EOS line such as the C300 markII (which also uses the same cards) would probably look to buy into this media as it is only a smaller additional investment when you take into account the price of the camera and the system, however, as a new user buying into the XC 10, the cost of the card, I’m sure would play on the minds of many seeing as it is the only way of recording 4K on this camera.

Moving on,  the camera has a fixed (non interchangeable) 10x f/2.8 to 5.6 SLR-style manual zoom lens with auto and manual focus capability. The 8.9 to 89mm lens yields a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27.3 to 273mm in video mode and 24.1 to 241mm in the 4:3 photo modes. This move by Canon has come as a surprise to most photographers, most have been wanting more in this department. The lack of interchangeability of lenses and the slowness of the lens supplied does not yield itself to much practical application in the ENG/EFP (Electronic New Gathering/ Electronic Field Production) and run and gun use.

The XC 10 is priced at USD 2,500/- internationally and expected to be made available in June 2015. No word on pricing or availability in India.

For what the XC 10 promises and what it delivers,there evidently seems to be a gap. Price, lensing, ergonomics and media wise, it may not be the best option out there for field use for most professional multimedia producers or enthusiasts and young professionals looking to get into 4K. Will there every be a complete camera that satisfies all the needs of photographers,videographers and multimedia producers, I’m not so sure, but I remain hopeful. The XC10 surely though is not that camera.

The XC 10 however is a great camera for use in Independent cinema production and would be a huge hit with users who would want a small but powerful 4K camera with more features than a GoPro and less size and weight than a DSLR for use on gimbals, jibs etc. Drone photographers would seriously benefit from the XC 10 and surely it is a segment that the camera will capture well and Canon will exploit well with this offering.

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